Reid urged to abandon police mergers

A LAST-GASP appeal has been made to new Home Secretary Dr John Reid to shelve plans to merge Suffolk's police force into a three-county constabulary.

By Graham Dines

A LAST-GASP appeal has been made to new Home Secretary Dr John Reid to shelve plans to merge Suffolk's police force into a three-county constabulary.

Charles Clarke's sacking last week in the Cabinet reshuffle has given campaigners hope that his successor, who is known for his support for local services, will reject controversial proposals which would end Suffolk's policing independence by combining it with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire.

Last night, one of the county's Tory MPs called on him to intervene to halt this “wrong, unpopular and harmful” merger.

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The reorganisation was part of Whitehall's all-embracing East of England blueprint for regionalising key services.

But with the architect of regionalisation John Prescott losing all policy responsibility, his department broken up and his deputy David Miliband moved to take charge of environment, farming, and rural affairs, there is hope that the Prime Minister will drop much of the regional agenda to avoid a stand-up fight with England's shires.

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Dr Reid, a Scottish MP in charge of the Home Office, is known as a pragmatist who less than three weeks ago took part in a demonstration in his Airdrie constituency against the health board's plans to close the local hospital's accident and emergency department.

In a letter to the new Home Secretary, South Suffolk Tory MP Tim Yeo calls on Dr Reid to “put right one of the blunders of your predecessor by reversing his decision to force through the merger of the Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire police forces.”

Mr Yeo says: “This merger is bitterly opposed by everybody in Suffolk regardless of political persuasion. It will be highly damaging to one of the best police forces in the country.

“Suffolk now faces the prospect of a rise in its crime rate once this merger goes through because resources at present available to Suffolk will inevitably be diverted to the higher crime areas within the new enlarged police force.”

Mr Yeo praises Dr Reid's commitment to the importance of local autonomy and local decision-making.

Meanwhile, Harold Mangar, a member of Suffolk Police Authority, said last night: “It has been agreed that a letter, similar to a previous one sent to Charles Clarke, should be sent to John Reid and the new minister of his department setting out our objections to the merger and asking them to have another look at it.

“We are keeping to the position we have always adopted - that we don't wish to merge with other forces. We're sending this letter off because we think it's the right thing to do.”

A Home Office spokesman said that as the new ministerial team would be briefed by civil servants in the coming days on all major departmental issues and policies, and this would include police force restructuring.

“However, on day one of Dr Reid's new job, he has given priority to the release of overseas prisoners and he has been in Portsmouth visiting the nerve centre responsible for tracing them.”

The merger of independent county constabularies in England and Wales into larger regional units was promoted by Mr Clarke to make ensure more efficient policing able to deal with cross-boundary and organised crime and make them fit for purpose 21st Century policing.

Only Hampshire, Kent and Greater Manchester have been allowed to remain as strategic, stand alone single county forces. The rest will be amalgamated and the other three county constabularies in the East of England - Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire - will form one unit as yet to be named.

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